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  • Writer's pictureTim Coyne

The Glow-up of Water Treatment: How UV Burst onto the Water Treatment Scene

The story of how UV disinfection was accidentally discovered by C.F. Gordon is a fascinating one that illustrates the power of serendipity in scientific discovery. It all started in the early 20th century when scientists were studying the effects of sunlight on bacteria. They had observed that bacteria in water exposed to sunlight were killed, but they didn't fully understand why.

One of these scientists was C.F. Gordon, a British microbiologist who was studying the effects of UV light on bacteria. In the early 1900s, Gordon was conducting experiments on the effect of different types of light on the growth of bacteria. One day, while conducting an experiment with a petri dish of bacteria, Gordon accidentally left the dish exposed to light from a mercury vapor lamp. When he returned to the lab the next day, he was surprised to find that the bacteria in the dish had been killed.

At first, Gordon thought that the heat from the lamp had killed the bacteria. But when he repeated the experiment with a cooler light source, he found that the bacteria were still killed. He realized that the UV light from the mercury vapor lamp was the cause of the bacteria's death. This accidental discovery led Gordon to further investigate the use of UV light for water disinfection. In 1906, he published a paper on the subject, titled "The Bactericidal Action of Ultraviolet Light." In the paper, Gordon described how he had exposed water to UV light and found that it was effective at killing bacteria.

However, at the time, the technology to harness UV light for water treatment did not yet exist. It wasn't until the 1950s that researchers began developing UV water disinfection systems that could be used on a large scale.

Today, UV water disinfection is widely used around the world as a safe and effective way to kill bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms in water. When water flows through a UV system, it is exposed to a special UV lamp that emits high-intensity UV light. This light damages the DNA or RNA of the microorganisms, preventing them from reproducing and rendering them harmless.

UV treatment does not add any chemicals or disinfectants to the water. This means that UV treatment does not affect the taste or odor of the water and does not create any disinfection byproducts that can be harmful to health.

However, it is important to note that UV treatment is only effective against microorganisms that are present in water that is already very clean. It does not remove other contaminants such as chemicals, minerals, or sediment, which require additional treatment methods. Prior to UV water treatment, the water needs to undergo some pre-treatment methods to ensure that it is suitable for UV disinfection. The most common pre-treatment methods include filtration and sedimentation. These methods remove large particles, such as sand, silt, and debris, that can interfere with the UV light's ability to reach and kill microorganisms. Chemical coagulants and flocculants are often required in these filtration and sedimentation processes to prepare the water for UV treatment.

If the water contains high levels of minerals or other substances that can interfere with the UV light, additional pre-treatment is required. For example, water with high levels of iron or manganese requires an oxidizing agent, such as chlorine or potassium permanganate, to convert these minerals into a form that can be filtered out or removed by sedimentation. It's important to note that the specific pre-treatment methods required will depend on the quality and composition of the water being treated. A Sterling Water treatment expert can conduct tests and evaluations for you to determine the appropriate chemical pre-treatment methods and ensure that the water is properly prepared for UV disinfection. Reach out to us on the contact page.

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